There’s a long list of studies that show how the “Western diet” — one high in saturated fats, highly-processed foods, refined sugars, and carbohydrates — is flaming the fires of an obesity epidemic in the western hemisphere. But, the reason for the diet’s prevalence isn’t really understood. Hell, comics like Bill Maher and Bill Burr have bits in their stand up about not understanding why “fat” people can’t just eat more “carrots” or simply “exercise more.” Well, there’s a new study published in Royal Society Open Science that’s starting to peel back why people on the western diet find it so damn hard to get off it. The shortest answer is: The western diet is impairing the brain and its ability to understand that you’re full after you eat.
The study was conducted amongst 110 “lean and healthy” 20 to 23 years olds over a week. The participants were specifically chosen due to the fact that they were already on a good diet. On the first day, the test group was given the cornerstones of the Western diet for breakfast: Waffles, and “milkshakes.” Now, wait. We can hear you asking, “who, exactly, drinks ‘milkshakes’ for breakfast?” Well, have you been to Starbucks recently? That’s the place that sells “coffee” drinks with more calories than a Big Mac and shocking levels of sugar.
Throughout the week, participants ate sugary breakfast cereals, fast food, and had at least one more waffle or milkshake each day of the study. By the end of the week, their ability to remember basic things dropped and their desire to eat more crappy food increased. So what the hell happened?
Previous studies had shown that when animals ate junk food it impaired their hippocampus. That’s the part of the brain that controls both memory and appetite control. Very generally, the hippocampus kicks into gear and blocks your memories of, say, cake right after you’ve had cake so you don’t crave more cake. It’s crucial in stopping you from over-eating. Professor Richard Stevenson, who helped conduct the study, breaks it down like this, “when the hippocampus functions less efficiently, you do get this flood of memories, and so food is more appealing.”
There’s something going on with the western diet specifically that’s stopping the hippocampus from doing its thing. “This will make it harder to resist, leading you to eat more,” Professor Stevenson says. “Which, in turn, generates more damage to the hippocampus and a vicious cycle of overeating.”
And, that’s not even the kicker to this study. They also found that for those who lessened their ability to feel full, they also heightened their desire to eat food that was inherently bad for them — that is the milkshakes, sugary cereals, and highly-processed fast foods. Which … that does make a certain sort of sense. Those foods are notoriously engineered to be addicting.
So, what then? It’s hard to tell someone working three jobs to stop eating at McDonald’s or Starbucks when they don’t have the time or resources to not eat that sort of food. Furthermore, this is just one human study. More research is needed to fully understand what’s going on. Still, we know highly-processed foods and ultra-refined sugars combined with carbs and saturated fats are very bad for your health. At least now, we’re starting to understand why it’s so hard to say no to that second helping of Cocoa Puffs or that ultra-sugary Starbucks “coffee” every day.
(Via The Guardian)